Lemon Love

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
25 year old Vanessa Hillard is trying not to be bitter in downtown Chicago. But money problems and bad relationships make life feel sort of sour. Can the right man help V make lemonade out of lemons?

Submitted: October 02, 2011

A A A | A A A

Submitted: October 02, 2011



Lemon Love

After waiting in the DMV for more than an hour, I was pretty sure they were never going to call my number. I crumpled the white slip of paper that read 246, and tossed it in a garbage pail beside me. How come people in the DMV were slow as snails at their jobs?

I buttoned my gray trench coat and threw on my Ray Ban glasses. I was cold, tired, and didn’t want anyone to notice me. Although I wasn’t too worried about being noticed. Wasn’t like this was a red carpet event or something. Wasn’t like I was a celebrity. I just wasn’t in the mood to strike up conversation. And my night-colored sunglasses reflected that.

“I can take number 2-4-6 at window number nine.” a man yelled out for everyone in the entire waiting area to hear.

Finally I was up. About time.

I kept my glasses on. There was no way the man at the counter would see my brown eyes up close. I had horrid bags and dark circles underneath. Note to self: don’t ever buy fifty dollar cucumber eye cream again. Such a waste. That crap didn’t help at all. Maybe I just needed to drink more water and rest.

I hadn’t slept well in days since moving to Halstead Street on the West Loop in windy downtown Chicago. Seemed like I spent 24 hours a day studying and applying to jobs. Landing a job was a work in process. Yesterday, after an excruciating boring group interview, I took the elevated train home. Fell asleep while riding. And lucky me, someone cut a hole in my jacket pocket and stole my entire wallet. Darn thief. Took three-hundred cash, four credit cards, and worst of all---my SC driver’s license. Now, I needed a temporary license.

At least school was good. At twenty-six, I was a sophisticated grad student working hard on an MBA. Granted, my campus party days were over. But so were my days stuck in a job cubicle. After three years of adjusting property claims for a major insurance company, I was starting over. I needed to be out of the South and Chicago felt far enough.

I was finally starting over and, minus my eye bags and my stolen wallet, I felt pretty good about life.

I filled out some paperwork at the counter, got my picture snapped, and was informed I’d get a permanent Illinois driver’s license in seven to ten business days.

Doom fell over me as I walked through the icy November morning wind to the bus stop. It was just a few blocks up from the DMV. My lips dried with each step and I knew I’d have to wait for at least 15 minutes. I felt like sitting on fire and prayed the bus would come soon. The bus drivers could be just as slow as the DMV workers. Grabbing gloves from my coat pocket, I pushed my steps forward as fast as I could in my red-soled high heels.

The bus pulled up on schedule. Thank God. I boarded with glee, ready to toast my buns. All the seats were taken, so I stood and held tightly onto the metal bar. I saw Brittany, my good friend from economics class, and after a few stops snagged a seat next to her. She was reading a mobile version of the Chicago-Tribune on her phone.

‘Tourist’s wallet stolen after being left on counter’ screamed the headline.

Geeze, criminals really have no shame. First me, now tourists, who next-- pregnant women?

Speaking of, Brittany was expecting. Eight months to go and the stork would deliver her baby boy. She had married a Chicago Bulls point guard, and lived in some really expensive loft uptown. He put a huge diamond ring on her finger and, yes, I stared at her shiny rock every chance I got. Talk about rich envy. Brittany claims she never signed a prenuptial agreement either. Hmph, I would have never thought a basketball wife, without a prenup, would actually want an MBA. But Brittany was a smart chick. Not too bougie. Still rode the city bus like the rest of us. That’s why I liked her.

She claimed to have a really cute brother-in-law that she wants to set me up with, but I’m skeptical. I was finally adjusting to being single. I hadn’t spoken to my ex, Marcus Brown, in six months. I absolutely lost it when I discovered that douche bag had a wife and a baby momma. Now because of him, all men were sour lemons that put a bitter taste in my mouth. Stupid idiots.

Brittany wasn’t reading the news anymore, but calling my name, her two fingers snapping in my face. “Earth to Vanessa! I had to call your name three times. Girl, what are you thinking about? And do not say your ex.” She playfully nudged me in the ribs. “You know you can do better.”

“We all been through some crap,” she commented, when I re-iterated my pity story to her. “You should really let me introduce you to my brother-in-law. He is so sweet. Works as a plastic surgeon. Does wonderful boob jobs. I’m even considering going to him after I have the baby.”

I wasn’t too sure about getting breast implants, but I considered Brittany’s double-date offer. I was twenty the last time I went on a double date. That was five years ago. I was studying fashion retail at USC and my cousin begged me to go to dinner with her, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s best friend. The guy seemed nice. That was until he openly admitted that he was dating a boy. Came right out of the closet over our crab cake appetizer.

Yeah, maybe double dating was a bad idea.

“Does your brother-in-law like girls or boys?” I asked, realizing I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.

“Are you serious?” Brittany scrunched up her face.

“Is he married?”

“You are way too paranoid, chill!” Brittany’s hazel eyes laughed. “No, he’s not an undercover brother and he’s never married. He does have a little girl, but she’s the most darling sweetie pie you’ll ever meet. I can’t wait until I have my baby.” Her eyes grew dreamy.

“I love kids,” I said. “You are going to make a really great mom. And feel free to make me the godmother if all goes well with your bro-in-law”.

She waved a hand at me. “Oh, for sure. You’ll fit right in with the family. You just focus on getting those eyebrows waxed and some fresh hair extensions in that pretty little head of yours. A true Chicago diva is never happy to be nappy. And if you want a naturaI look, I know a great stylist.”

She’s brutally honest, I thought. I gave her a quick hug goodbye as she exited the bus, promising to give her a call later with dinner plan details, and reminded her to study for next week’s test.

I planned to be home soon, take a hot shower, put on some nice jazz music, and relax before I had to balance my checkbook. My credit cards were canceled but I wanted to make sure every penny was accurately accounted for.

At the next stop, I found myself staring at the finest man ever. Flawless chocolate face. Great bone structure. Wavy hair. Deep cookie-colored eyes. My heart stopped as he sat down next to me. My peripheral caught him looking at me and I felt my face change from its normal brown tone to apple red.

“Hi how are you,” I looked over and said. How dumb of me to speak first.

“I’m doing a lot better now beautiful. May I ask you your name?”

I told him and asked for his.

“Brandon Rayford.” He said. His eyes trotted over me, and I swallowed. He smiled and revealed a straight row of pearly whites.

I smiled too as he went on.

“Vanessa Hillard. My God, you are absolutely gorgeous. Are you from here? What’s a pretty lady like you doing riding the bus?”

I could smell his minty breath and I savored the scent. I leaned into him a little more. My heart beat a little faster.

His voice was rich and deep. His trench coat--which looked rather expensive—was dark like his skin. His body was buff and I knew he was the type that probably lived in the gym. Maybe God wanted me to finally make some lemonade out of all my sour, bitter relationships.

I laughed. “That’s very sweet of you to say, Brandon. I’m not from here though. Born and raised in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

“I’ve actually got some family that lives down in Carolina. That really is a beautiful state. I don’t watch anything but SEC football too. Bulldogs, Gators—Gamecocks.”

“Oh what you know about those USC Gamecocks, that garnet and black! That’s my alma mater!”

I couldn’t look away from his deep dimples. I had the urge to feel his lips. I bet his smile could light a room brighter than the sun.

“Well, go cocks then! So look. We should exchange numbers and discuss football over a glass of wine.”

“Um, I really shouldn’t—”

“Do anything but write down your number,” Brandon finished for me. “Because I’d be honored to take you to dinner. Have you eaten at Grand Luxury café yet? It’s not far from here.”

He was leaned in so close to me, I could feel his knees against mine.

I heard wonderful things about that café. The food and service was superb. Five star to the fullest. I entered my number into his phone and swayed my hips side to side down the bus aisle. I smiled once more as I hopped off the bus and thought about what I would wear to dinner.


I stepped out of the dressing room in navy blue skinny jeans and a v-neck gold top. The jeans were True Religion and fit me like a glove. The top was more expensive then all three school books I had purchased this semester, two-hundred dollars. But Nordstrom’s attire for my first date was well worth the cost. Maybe I could find a good deal on shoes at Macy’s or something. Anger shuddered through me when I remembered I didn’t have my credit cards. I really needed my MasterCard right now.

I waited for Brittany’s response, while I eyed my rump in the 360-degree mirror. Credit card or no credit card, I was buying these jeans. These jeans and some sexy lingerie to go underneath.

“V, you look absolutely amazing!” Brittany said while I runway walked down the small aisle.

“Thanks girl, I feel amazing in these jeans. Do you think they’re too pricey? Because I really don’t think they are that expensive, plus I just want to look my best. And I have absolutely nothing to wear. And I don’t want to wear a dress and look like I’m trying too hard.” I said.

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been this nervous before. Brandon honestly gave me butterflies. Blood rushed from my head just thinking about him.

“Oh, don’t you worry your pretty little head about that price tag. I will take care of that.” Brittany gushed. “Money is not an issue. That thief took your entire wallet, huh?”

“Yes and my entire life right along with it. I feel so stupid for falling asleep on the train that night, Brittany.”

“It’s not your fault though.” She smiled at me. “Bad things happen to good people. And you are the victim in this situation.”

I rubbed my forehead. “You’re right. I just feel so idiotic.”

And now I sort of felt like a charity case letting Brittany buy my clothes.

“I’m going to see if they have any deals over in the purse department. And I know you don’t really want a dress, but try on that red one just so I can see you in it. Those white jeans too. I’ll be right back, okay?

“Sure, I’ll try on the dress. Thanks for everything, B. I really don’t mean to throw you into my money mess.”

“V, don’t even say that. You deserve to have a wonderful dinner with your date tomorrow night. I want to help get your perfect outfit. Plus it’s the least I can do since matching you up with my brother-in-law seems doomed.” She winked at me.

I blushed.


Grand Luxury Café was a beautiful restaurant. After we ordered entrees for the evening, the waiter brought more wine, a bottle of Château Margaux. It cost four-hundred dollars. I had no doubt my Nordstrom’s gold top, exposing the perfect amount of cleavage, and my skinny jeans were to thank. I realized that not only was Brandon intellectual and educated, but he was also quite wealthy. Far from Mr. ’I’m married’ Marcus.

My cell phone rang. I excused myself momentarily and walked over to the ladies room.

“Be right back,” I said, giggling and taking another quick sip of wine.

I looked down at my cell still ringing, and managed to answer it after the fourth ring, mentally kicking myself for not cutting off my phone so I could enjoy my dinner. A man with a heavy Spanish accent was on the line, causing me to strain my ears so I could understand him. I pressed the phone closer to my ear, my pace stumbling and my body tipsy. I gathered that he was calling from my credit card company and that he had some information about my stolen cards. My ears perked when the customer service rep revealed the criminal was a young, black male now wanted by police, after being arrested, charged with theft, and then escaping from the city jail. The male assaulted two police officers before escaping early this morning.

Why would someone go through all this trouble for my little wallet?

“Do you know the guy’s name who did this, sir?”

I watched Brandon from afar, eating his steak and sipping on his glass of wine. My heart pounded as I listened for the rep’s response.

Just listen carefully, I told myself. There is no reason to jump to any conclusions until police figure out who did this.

I heard the rep speaking, and as he continued, I grew faint and suddenly cold. I couldn’t breathe. I dropped my cell phone and with shaking hands, ran for the women’s bathroom.

A few minutes later, I walked back to the table, and was surprised beyond words to see Brandon had ordered dessert. A slice of lemon meringue pie lay next to my glass of wine. Anger creeped in, but I kept my composure, and softly placed my napkin in my lap as I sat down. For a second, I felt like Scarface and going off all through this restaurant.

“You have a brother,” I revealed. “His name is Bobby Rayford. He’s a criminal. He stole a tourist’s wallet the other day and he stole mine on the train. He spent half of my cash. On weapons. The other half was deposited into your checking account.” The room grew smaller as I spoke.

I pushed my chair from the table, nearly tripping over my own feet and threw my napkin on the table. I felt disgusted. Stealing my money was one thing. But taking me out on a date after robbing me?

I snarled.

“I am not a criminal,” Brandon acknowledged, standing up from his chair.

“Well I’m glad that you feel that way. But as for the rest of the world. We know the truth.” I hissed.

Brandon stepped forward, brushing crumbs off his pants. “Why are you so upset? I’m assuming that you’ve been misinformed. And seeing as how we’re both mature adults, we can handle this matter as such. Will you give me a chance to explain?”

His deep voice, which was one of the most attractive things about him, was suddenly repulsive.

“Misinformed?” I screeched. “All of my money was stolen and cops have a warrant for your brother’s arrest and I’ve been misinformed?

“Well, there’s a reason for that. Bobby joined a gang and part of his initiation…”

“Initiation?” I almost slapped him.

“Yes, part of his initiation was to rob two people…one on the train. Bobby is 17 years old and he just joined the Black Disciples, it’s a gang out in Cook County. If he didn’t go through with it they threatened to kill his entire family. That includes our mother. Our sister. And me.

I rolled my eyes, and let out a sigh loud enough to be heard on the moon. “So you’ve got a gangster for a brother? Did you help him rob me?”

“Absolutely not, but he did point you out at the DMV before cops arrested him. Afterward, I made sure Bobby put the money in my account so that I could return it to you.” He stared at me, so sadly, like we were at a funeral wake. “Vanessa, I wanted to tell you on the bus but…um… I was—nervous.”

I glared at him, digesting his response. I do remember seeing a young boy staring a whole in my head at the DMV.

“Sounds like your brother is mixed up with the wrong crowd.” I felt light-headed still, and I could feel the perspiration on my face.

“You have no idea. But you have to believe that I never intended to frighten you.”

“Scared? Me? Are you serious?”

“I know I hurt you. Seeing you was like love at first sight. I don’t want that feeling to go away.”

He must have erased all of his nerves, because without warning he embraced me in a tight hug and all of a sudden I felt his lips press against mine. I kissed him back. Hungrily. Eagerly. The room seemed to erase and all I could feel was his strong, sweet hands against the small of my back. I didn’t want to come up for air, but had to, so I could speak.

“But if your brother admitted to you that he stole my wallet and then gave the money back why did he break out of jail? I mean gangs and jail suck. But he’s safer there then on the streets,” I pointed out.

He hugged me tightly and I never felt more secure.

“My brother turned himself back in just before dinner. So whoever called you didn’t have all the facts. Bobby wants to change, but he knows that it’s going to take time. He’s always saying that he doesn’t want us to worry about him, that he just wants us to be safe.”

“We should go visit him tomorrow.”

“I’d want no one else but you by my side.”

I smiled, speechless, as Brandon paid for dinner, called a taxi, held my hand while we left the restaurant and crossed the street until both of us jumped in the back of the cab car.

I closed my eyes.

I felt the cab brake, and cracked my lids a bit. We were parked on Halstead Street in front my place.

I opened my eyes wider and smiled. “You sure you don’t want to catch the bus home?”

“Not unless I have to. I did ruin our first dinner date.” Brandon reached for my hair, tossing the bangs from my face, his eyes piercing into mine.

I melted every time I saw that look. Those butterflies were back in my stomach too.

“Come on up. I’ll make you a drink,” I told him.

“Yes ma’am. What are we drinking, my dear?”

“Fresh. Lemonade,” I responded, and I knew exactly what we would toast to.

The Rayford family.

I had a really good feeling I was going to fit right in.

---the End

© Copyright 2020 JewellCW. All rights reserved.

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